Archive for Richard Whorf

Jazz Paroxysm

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 24, 2020 by dcairns

BLUES IN THE NIGHT feels to me like one of the fastest films ever made, not only for the typical rat-a-tat of Warner Bros dialogue, aided by a large cast (a jazz band and various associates) but because of the hopped-up dynamism of Litvak’s camerawork and cutting, and Don Siegel’s furious, hallucinogenic montages (Vorkapich on steroids). Half jazz musical, half noir, it’s not well-known because the stars are Richard Whorf and Priscilla Lane and Jack Carson and Betty Field and Lloyd Nolan and Wallace Ford. Personally, I never knew Elia Kazan had a brief career as a Warner character player. All of them are terrific, but none is a headliner.

Though much less generic than Litvak’s CITY FOR CONQUEST, on which screenwriter Robert Rossen also worked, this one shares its surprising downbeat tendencies — the characters are all bound for fame and fortune but don’t get there, and in this film never even smell the big time. Plus crime and scheming and madness get in the way — just as the band have walked from the cattle-car they rode in on towards the latest dive venue, singing brightly together — the closest we get to full-on musical cinema fantasy — the exterior set is suitably unconvincing — things suddenly take a turn for the horrible. Field, the trampy girl from OF MICE AND MEN, who always seems to be angling for a strangling in a barn, hangs around in a barn A LOT. Lloyd Nolan plays a vicious heister who’s all the more alarming because he likes our innocent musicians. Like Kirk Douglas, so terrifying in OUT OF THE PAST, he’s PLEASANT. Wally Ford is a boozy gambling addict with a gimpy leg, and Howard da Silva is just Howard da Silva, with the face of a suspicious egg, polishing glasses and glowering with ball-bearing eyes.

Amazing stuff — a jazz riot provoked when Frank McHugh’s uglier brother pugnaciously requests “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” (good thing Sam Fuller never met this band) — jazz jail (Jazzcatraz?) where we glimpse some actual black people, so at least the movie acknowledges where the music comes from — and TWO jazz nightmares as Field tries to become a chanteuse — Susan Alexander Kane histrionics and Dali-meets-Busby-Berkeley optics — and then Whorf (a successful art director who decided to branch out — really rather good in this!) suffers a mental breakdown and things get fully Freddy Krugerish. The dollarbook surrealism of the imagery is slashed to bloody shreds by Don Siegel’s aggressive cutting (were his films as director so beautifully stark because he’d gotten all the flamboyance out of his system sweating over the Warners optical printer?)

At his lowest ebb, or on his way to it, Whorf finds himself in a candy-ass monkey suit tickling ivories with “Guy Heiser and his band,” a really vicious parody of Kay Kyser’s novelty act. I don’t know where they found the girl singer but Wally Ford may have drawn on some of his FREAKS connections…

Lowered expectations — CITY and BLUES both beat up their characters to such an extent that circumstances they’d have seen as tragic at the films’ outset come to seem like ecstatic happy endings after the pounding they’ve had. When its relentless pace and careening tonal shifts finally screeched to an end title, we were relieved too, and elated.

Melodrama at lightspeed.

BLUES IN THE NIGHT stars Jean Sherman; Mae Jackson; Sam Harris; Michael Shayne; Gooper; Phroso; ‘Googi’; Mert Fleagle / Bert Fleagle; Soapy; Dixie Belle Lee; Dad Fitchitt; Hamilton Burger; Butts McGee; ‘Hot Garters’ Gardner; Ham; Prof. Lesley Joyce; Irana Preveza; James Kirkham; and Sgt. Dickens.

Juke Swamp

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on January 31, 2015 by dcairns

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JUKE GIRL is a pretty good Warner melo from the pen of A.I. Bezzerides — like all his films it manages a prominent role for a Greek-American character, and carries a bit of a political punch. Odd to see such a left-leaning film, siding with farmers against crooked wholesalers, yet starring Ronald Reagan. He’s actually kind of winning in it.

The title character is lovely Ann Sheridan, who dances with customers in Muckeye’s bar. The movie is in no way hers. The plan must have been to imply that it’s the story of a racy dance hall hostess to cover the fact that the movie is really about organized labour. It would have been great if Reagan had gotten in trouble with HUAC for being in it, but alas even their idiocy had limits.

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My favourite line is Ann seducing her way onto the premises of the wholesalers’ so Ron can steal a truck to help out the embattled Greek farmer who must get his produce to market before it spoils. “Gee, a packing house must be a wonderful place at night,” she coos through the fence.

With almost precode energy, the movie does a lot of packing itself, cramming in a murder and framing along with the dirty business dealings and hints of political corruption. It’s oppressively crammed with ugly mugs, bulbous, walking Drew Friedman cartoons — if you have Richard Whorf AND Howard Da Silva in a movie, you are possibly subjecting your audience’s nerves to what the automobile industry calls destructive testing. How much nasal sneering can we take?

Curtis Bernhardt directs, without his interesting expressionistic flourishes, but with a lot of GUSTO.

At the end, the murderer is revealed as wholesaler Gene Lockhart, so Ron and Ann are saved from the lynch mob. We think that’s going to be the situation defused, since Lockhart, an unintentional killer, is clearly in the throes of complete nervous collapse and can be turned over to the sheriff, but NO — the ugly (ugly!) mob he has whipped up now turns on him, and Bernhardt, who can’t help himself, chucks in one METROPOLIS style high angle of hands reaching for the miscreant, ringing around him, seemingly about to tear him apart like Charles Laughton’s Dr. Moreau…

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And we fade out. A coda rounds off the fate of the other characters, but this moment of bloody, Reign of Terror revolution is never referred to again, and we are left to assume that Lockhart was (a) torn limb from limb (b) hanged from a lamppost or (c) eaten.

This is why Warner pictures are the coolest.

The title attracted me in the same way that SO YOUNG SO BAD and PROBLEM GIRLS seem like really appealing movies based on titles alone. Watch for them here soon!